Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Riding and Reading

                                                by Laura Crum

            Now that I’m finally done with the long saga of “My Life With Horses” (everybody heaves a sigh of relief), I thought I’d catch you up on what I’ve been doing lately. For those few who might be interested, I will collect the “My Life With Horses” posts into a brief memoir, which will (eventually) be up on Kindle.
            So, lately we’ve been riding (no big surprise there). Our old friend and boarder, Wally, has recovered from his knee surgery and is back to riding and roping. Here he is on the trail with my son, as they give their horses a breather climbing up the big hill. Wally turns eighty in a week or so, so his fast and uneventful recovery from knee surgery is both impressive and inspiring (to me, anyway, and perhaps to all of us older riders).

            I love riding this dirt road through the redwood forest in the summer. The shade under the trees feels like a drink of cool water on a hot day, and the dappled light is lovely. The road climbs, sometimes steeply, sometimes gradually, until it reaches the top of the ridge. It is private land where we have permission to ride and we seldom see anyone else.

            My son and Henry as we ride along the ridgeline. 

            Riding single track trail through the forest on the way home. My “ear photos” are pretty predictable. Beach photos in the winter and the forest trails in the summer. Riding through the redwoods is strictly a summertime pleasure—its dark, dank and muddy under the trees from the first major rain until it dries out sometime in late spring. So I ride here as much as I can in the summertime, when it is absolutely magical. Lately we’ve been up here a couple of times a week.

            Sunny and Henry, our very relaxed trail horses. They are just the best.

            We’re also riding at the roping arena with our friends a couple of days a week. My son helps bring up the cattle with our friend Mark.

            Henry gets to chase a steer.

            Wally’s first run post surgery. Mark heading, Wally heeling on Twister. And yes, Wally roped two feet.

            So that’s my current summer riding life. And then, there’s reading. “What are you reading right now?” People ask me this, in real life and on the internet. And on this blog we often talk about our favorite “horse books,” (not just our own books). Right now I am reading a couple of lovely novels that were recommended by my friend Funder (at “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” over on the sidebar). In my family we read aloud to each other after dinner (we don’t own a TV) and these are the books I’m reading to my husband and son this summer (having read them previously myself).
            “The Hero and the Crown” and “The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley are our summer reading fare, and they are truly delightful. Both books are fantasy, about an imaginary land called Damar. Being fantasy, everything, from people to horses to other critters, is a bit bigger than life. The people are heroic (or really dastardly) and the critters, including the horses, are a bit more noble than your average real life horse. (And lets face it, we don’t meet many real life dragons.) Nonetheless, the horses ARE believable in their context as war horses; Robin McKinley has definitely spent a good deal of time with horses and is able to create believable equine personalities. Lovable ones, too.
            I have to say that the courage and intelligence displayed by the horses in the books remind me very much of the courage and intelligence displayed by my own horses, working cattle and climbing through rocky passes in the mountains and what not. I’m pretty sure my horses would not be up for facing off a dragon, but I have faced off a charging bull on a tough cowhorse and the equation isn’t so very different. Robin McKinley’s horses are real to me.
            I like fantasy, if its well written, and these novels are exceedingly well written. Both feature a very strong female protagonist (which I believe is this author’s specialty), and I take great pleasure in reading to my son of young women who are strong and courageous and smart and self-aware (he loved Brave—if you want a Disney equivalent), and I am hoping he will internalize this version of the ideal female.
            More than this, the descriptions of the landscape and climate of Damar are deeply evocative, and I will admit that this is perhaps my favorite part of writing—both in my own books and the books of others. I love description that can make you feel that you really ARE in the particular world of the book—the sights and scents, the chill of the air, the hot desert wind…etc. I am criticized once in awhile for too much description of landscape, plants and weather in my stories, but I have no criticism for this aspect of Robin McKinley’s books. I love it. I can picture Damar as if I’ve been there.
            There is one confusing thing about the two books. “The Blue Sword” was published first, but “The Hero and the Crown” comes first in chronological order, making it a prequel. THTC is actually set several hundred years (I think) before the time of “The Blue Sword”, which is a tiny bit confusing overall. The Damar of “The Blue Sword” bears a certain resemblance to India during the time of the Raj, and THTC doesn’t have this tinge at all, making the two stories very different in feeling. I wasn’t sure in what order I wanted to read them (to my family), but settled on THTC first, as that was the order in which I first read them myself, and is the chronological order. (Funder agreed).
            And finally, these are great books. Really exciting, really engaging. Not since I first read Tolkien and the Harry Potter series have I been so taken by a fantasy novel as I have been by these. If you’ve read them yourself, please chime in with your thoughts. And if you haven’t, well, if you like fantasy (at all) and horses, give them a try. Perfect summer reading.
            There you have it. My summer riding and reading. And I hope everybody else is having an equally happy summer, and enjoying those lovely views “between the ears.” If you have any summer reading to recommend, give it a shout out in the comments. Cheers--Laura

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Please allow me to introduce myself

By Gayle Carline
Author of Mysteries and Humor and Horse Memoirs

Hi, I'm Gayle, and I'm a horse-aholic.

I've been invited to entertain you all on the last Saturday every month, so set your alarms, mark your calendars, here I come. I'm really excited about contributing to this blog, and I'll try not to be boring.

I thought I should introduce myself so you'll all know which corner of the equine hemisphere I inhabit. Let me start with two anecdotes:

1. When I was a teeny tot, my favorite activity was to take a huge sheet of paper and draw. I'd start in one corner with a house, a tree, a dog, and a horse (always a horse). Then I'd begin to tell the story, drawing it in as I went. Soon the paper was filled with forests and mountains and cities and fighter jets and dragons. (I told a helluva story.) My art-loving family saw all the pictures and thought I was an artist. They were wrong.

I was a storyteller.

2. I'm pretty sure I was horse crazy from the womb. I read all the horse books, collected horse statues, drew horses, dreamed of horses. My grandmother was from the country and told wonderful tales about all the horses she had known. My mother (her daughter) did not like horses and would not allow me to be around them. "They're large and you will get hurt."

When I was 45, my husband got me riding lessons for my birthday. It was the first time I actually got to ride a horse. A year later, I finally owned my first horse.

I also began writing. Fifteen years later, I have six books in print and two Quarter horses.

The lesson here, by the way, is that you cannot hide from your destiny. The life you were supposed to live will not be denied.

My first horse, Frostie, was three when I bought her. I intended to show her, but she had other ideas. She has a rather nervous temperament for the noise and chaos of a horse show. Fortunately, she has good bloodlines, so I bred her and got her son, Snoopy. You met him when I guested last week. Snoopy loves the excitement of a show, and when he's not being a goofball, he's pretty good at it.

We show in AQHA Trail classes. I've been told that these are technically called "pleasure trail" classes, but honestly, the AQHA website and show premiums don't call them that. Here is a video of my trainer, Niki, showing Snoopy at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. Niki was four months pregnant with her son at the time, so I took this video to show her you couldn't see the baby bump. Snoopy has his own YouTube channel. If you're interested, go here.

I have lots of pictures of me with my horses, but here's a picture of my family, which I think puts my life in context. It's our annual Christmas photo. In addition to Frostie, me, and Snoopy, let me introduce my husband, Dale, our son Marcus, the two maniacal dogs Duffy (corgi) and Lady Spazzleton (retriever-Muppet mix), and Katy the cat (who is most displeased with the whole thing).

Again, I'm super-happy to be here, and hope I can contribute to the horse cyber-discussions!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


                                                            by Laura Crum

            I spent three months all alone at a Sierra Lake when I was twenty-two years old, with only my young dog for company. (See my first two posts on this topic here and here.) For those who wonder what in the world this has to do with my life with horses, I’m getting to it. Slowly but surely.
            So I’ve touched on the magic I experienced at the lake, and I’ve talked about the fear, but there was one other notable thing. And that was the pure experience of being truly alone. Not in the sense of being afraid, which I’ve already written about. But just in the sense of how different it is to be really alone.
            We commonly don’t think much about this. We talk of being alone when we are merely without others in our home for awhile. We have neighbors, we go shopping, we drive down the street. We see other people every day. Almost all of us. We are never really alone.
At Burgson Lake, I was, for long periods, truly alone. Alone as in I never saw another human. I often went to town on Saturday to buy fresh food, but sometimes I did not. I sometimes saw others when I went hiking, but quite often I saw no one. It wasn’t a heavily traveled area in any sense. And I kept track. So this is how I know that I once went for ten days without seeing another person.
Ten days doesn’t sound very long. But stop and think if you have ever gone even three days without seeing another human. How about 24 hours? Most people have not. It’s an interesting experience. There can be fear, which I experienced. There were, for me, many moments of thrilling beauty, when I stared at the light sparkles on the lake and truly lost myself in the connectedness of the moment, just as I had envisioned. There was lots of time to read, and to write in journals. I didn’t bring a timepiece, but I became very good at reckoning where I was in the day by the sun. And the days stretched long in a way that could be both delightful and difficult.
Cause here is the part I didn’t imagine before I went to the lake. You get bored. You miss other people and regular things like cars and movies and bars and such. This was before the days of the internet, but now, I suppose, you would miss the internet. I missed my boyfriend. In short, there were moments where I was lonely. I would have given anything, at times, for a loved companion.
I had my dog and I had books. All in all, I did pretty well. I wrote in my journal when I wished I had someone to talk to, and I read. I stared endlessly at the lake and the mountains and the birds and lizards and deer and pine trees and tried to understand whatever message they had for me, just as I had hoped to do. I watched the light die out of the sky, and the flames of my campfire flicker in the darkness. I watched the full moon rise over my lake. Everything around the lake became deeply familiar to me, from the small, swampy forest at the other end (lots of mosquitoes), to the “granite beach” (a gradual sloping shelf of rock that led into the lake, where I sunbathed), to the “jumping off rocks” (where I dove into deep water) to the “dock” (a huge old floating log that I tied up near my camp, which functioned quite nicely as a pier).  I became very good at building fires and prided myself on not needing even a scrap of paper or such. One match, dry needles and ferns and twigs, voila!
 And sometimes I went to town on Saturday. You have no idea how much patience you can have with things like traffic and lines and crowds and such when you spend the rest of your time completely alone. It was fun just to be in the bustling tourist town. But I was always ready to go back to my camp after a day of town life. In many ways, which I barely understood at the time, I truly was soaking in the experience of solitude like a sponge. My Walden experiment was a success in a way I never could have predicted. It gave me a pattern for my life.
And now I return to what I said in the first postscript. I view my future as being shaped by this solitary summer which changed my life. Its interesting, that summer was the only period of my life since I was fifteen and first allowed to buy a horse of my own, when I did not own a horse. I had sold Hobby in May, and I bought Burt in September (see part one and two of “My Life With Horses). In the intervening three months I lived at Burgson Lake and learned some things.

Back to the present. I said in part twelve that I envision my future as being more contemplative, and my life as becoming perhaps a somewhat solitary and hermitish life. I wrote about these themes in my twelfth novel, Barnstorming. 

The truth is that I see that I have created a life that is somewhat modeled on my time at the lake. I have a small cabin on the edge of a round riding ring. The centerpiece is a round vegetable garden with a round birdbath of clear water in the middle. Symbols for sure.

 I can see no other houses from my front porch. If I keep my gate shut and don’t go out, I can spend days without seeing a human other than my husband and son. This is it. It’s the perfect form of the life I sought. I have loved companions, I have solitude, I have that cabin by the symbolic lake. I have my Walden. My task now is to deepen in my understanding and connection—the goal I sought that summer. I believe that vision can come to fruition now.
And so my life with horses is no longer about anything I especially want to “do” with them. It is more about sharing my life with them. Because one of the things I was acutely aware of missing at the lake was horses. I didn’t so much miss riding (though I would have been happy to ride)—I just missed having horses around. And if I am to be a hermit in my old age, I want to be a hermit with horses. A happy hermit with horses. 
I have written about my feelings about wanting to be a hermit recently (see On Being a Hermit), but that post covers only one half of the equation (the cranky part). Just as I did when I was twenty-two, I still have a vision of escaping the endless busy-ness of civilized life and the pressure to do and be something that other people exert. I want to sit on my porch and watch the light die out of the sky without feeling that I must go somewhere and/or do something. Just as I did then, I want to deepen in my connection to the natural world. To be with what is. I want to live as Thoreau did at Walden Pond.
And I can do that right here. In my own cozy cabin by the shore of my solitary symbolic lake, which is, actually, about as remote as Thoreau’s cabin was in real life (he could walk to town for lunch, and could see the railroad tracks from his front door). I have the loved companions that I missed at the lake and I have my horses. I feel that my life’s journey has brought me full circle to the goal that I sought in my youth. And I am happy with this result.
We don’t know what the future holds, but if I envision anything, I envision this.

And yes, I hope to keep riding as long as my horse and I enjoy looking at the world together. Here we are yesterday on a lovely ride through the redwood forest. As Aarene says (Haiku Farm, listed on the sidebar), “Life is good.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Other People's Horses

Good Morning - Horse Peeps! Today I'm giving a shout-out to one of our own - Natalie Keller Reinert, whose new book called Other People's Horses kept me up late finishing it.

Here's the official blurb:

It’s the dream of a lifetime — and Alex should be thrilled, taking six horses to Saratoga for the storied racing meet. But circumstances are less than ideal. With her husband, Alexander, abroad, the racing community is suspicious of her credentials. And to make her even more uneasy, Kerri, her na├»ve assistant, is a little too friendly with the trainer next door.

Ignoring the outside world, Alex throws herself into her work. Then she notices a new filly on the track — a filly with a problem she’s sure she can fix.

If only Alex owned that filly.

From training track gossip to tack room confidentials, OTHER PEOPLE’S HORSES continues the story of Alex and Alexander — two Thoroughbred trainers trying to do the right thing — that began in THE HEAD AND NOT THE HEART.

Oh gosh, I became totally absorbed in this one. It's the sequel to her first book, called The Head and Not the Heart, but trust me - you don't have to read that one first. Other People's Horses stands on it's own, and it's truly a horse book for horse people.

Here's my gushing review (and no, she didn't pay me to write this - hahahaha):

What a great book! I stayed up last night until midnight finishing it. This is a horse story for grown-ups. The Black Stallion for adults. Seabiscuit for women. Not only does the author dispense with all the generic "explaining" of horsey terms to outsiders, she just assumes you understand, jumps right in and hustles you along as Alex (she's a young horsewoman) takes a string of horses to Saratoga at the opening of that prestigious horse racing meet. Although those interested in horses and horse racing will adore this book, there is a lot here for anyone.

Ever been a woman knocking your head against the wall of the good-old-boys club? You'll appreciate this novel. Ever fallen in love-at-first-sight with an animal (in this case a bright chestnut filly) which you realize is a totally gut-driven, emotional, irrational choice, but you can't help yourself? You'll completely understand this story. Ever played second-string to a popular, successful husband and can't find any recognition of your own talented self? There is much to love in this fast-paced novel about Alex's attempt to prove herself as a trainer, all the while keeping her marriage to Alexander intact. This book is the sequel to The Head and not the Heart, Ms. Reinert's first novel. But this one is definitely a stand-alone novel in its own right, and I'm happy to see how Reinert has grown and matured as an author. Can't wait to read her next work.

Anyway - I totally loved this book. Whether you are or are not interested in horse racing, many of you will relate to the struggles of a young horsewoman trying to prove herself, and to use her learned and innate knowledge of horses to bring out the best in an animal.

Really well done. Brava, Natalie!

Here's the link on Amazon: 


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Meet Gayle Carline - and a Contest!

Hi everyone! Today we have a guest post from a regular reader, author and horsewoman Gayle Carline. Besides being a humor and mystery author, Gayle is also a Quarter Horse owner who shows as an AQHA Novice Amateur. She also has a brand new book out, told from her horse's point-of-view, called "From the Horse's Mouth: One Lucky Memoir."

I thought it would be interesting to see how she captured those equine thoughts on the page, and she talks about the process here. Be sure and read to the end, where she announces a contest with an awesome prize for one of our readers.

Best of all - Gayle may soon be blogging with us regularly - so with that said:
Welcome Gayle Carline!

First of all, I’d like to thank Linda and all the members of Equestrian Ink for having me over to the blog. (Can I call you Inkettes?) I’ve been reading this blog for years, and really enjoy everyone’s posts.

Let me introduce myself: I am a mystery author and humor columnist, and I am also a horse owner. Oddly, horses have never made it into either my books or my columns, even though they started my writing career, as a freelance writer for California Riding Magazine.

When my gelding, Snoopy, was three years old he won the 2007 Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association Trail Futurity. Then on April 30, 2008, he broke his leg. The exact bone was the left hind sesamoid.

Five years later, after the surgery and therapy had returned him to good health, I decided to write a book about the experience. I had blogged about his injury and his long road to recovery, so I had plenty of material. (You can read more at

I quickly realized that it was not my story to tell. I didn’t break my leg, Snoopy did. My point-of-view was that of an owner paying the vet bills, trying to figure out whether she was going to end up with a horse or a lawn ornament.

Snoopy needed to tell this story, in his own words.

Telling a story in an animal’s voice can be tricky, but I had two things going for me. I’ve read other good stories that were told by animals. And I may not be sane.

If you think it’s normal to talk like your animals, then I’m as normal as you are. Whenever my husband talks to the dogs, I feel compelled to answer him back – as the dogs. When Dale says, “Not that ball. Give me the good ball,” I respond (in a high barkie voice), “No! That other ball is dead to us!”

It’s the same with my horses. For example, when my trainer tells Snoopy to move over, I can’t help but say, “Ho-o-Kay,” in a goofy way. I’ve even written some of Snoopy’s blog posts in his voice.

Before I started the book, I also went back and read some first-person animal books. Black Beauty is the gold standard, in my opinion. I also read War Horse, and The Art of Racing in the Rain (which is told by a dog, but I wanted to see the contrast between the species).

Black Beauty still won me over. Beauty is an English country squire on four legs, but his interests lie in the way he and his friends are treated by their masters. For example, he speaks of being trained to bear a saddle, and it’s all about the discomfort of the girth being offset by the handful of oats and the pats from his owner.

In War Horse, as much as I loved the story, Joey was just a man in a horse suit. In one scene, he describes the Union Jack hanging in a courtyard. Snoopy would only notice a flag if it was close enough for him to eat.

As for Racing in the Rain, that dog’s an Einstein next to my four-legged Forrest Gump.

When I finished, the end result was a book I’m very proud to have written. It’s a story that is by turns funny, poignant, and insightful. I’ve not only captured Snoopy’s voice, but given voices to his friends. My editor refers to it as “Black Beauty for the 21st century.”

What would be my advice if you want to write as a first-person in four-legs? You have to get inside their heads, just like any character. Spend time watching them, and set your imagination free. How would they describe things? What makes them happiest? Saddest? Make up their dialogue as they roll in the dirt or eat their hay or stand for the farrier.

Trust me, pretty soon, you’ll have a story!

* * * * *

In the meantime, how would you like a chance to win a nice prize? I’ve got a lovely Professional’s Choice grooming bag, a $25 Amazon gift card, and a copy of Snoopy’s book (autographed by him, of course) to the first person who can tell me, in the comments below, when Black Beauty was originally published.

Wow, super contest! Thanks, Gayle.

Readers: Ready, Set, Go!

And if you'd like to learn more about Gayle and her new book - here are a couple of links:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Further Adventures of a Hermit

                                                by Laura Crum

            I had gone to live alone at Burgson Lake when I was twenty-two years old, envisioning a mystical communion with nature, and in some ways that did happen (see my previous post here), but a lot else happened that I didn’t expect. For one thing, I was often scared.
            I hadn’t expected to be scared. It had never, in fact, occurred to me that I might be scared. I wasn’t prone to being nervous; I didn’t mind being alone. And in the daytime I was fine. Not scared at all. But…
            Almost every evening, as it began to grow dark, the nervous feeling would creep upon me, spoiling my peace. I would hear rustles in the brush, and wonder if it might be bears, or worse yet, men who meant me harm. It didn’t matter that my logical mind knew it was deer. Something about the dark rendered my logical mind useless.
            Or rather, my logical mind was only useful for pointing out stuff that made my fear worse. You are miles from anyone who might help you, it said. If something happens to you here, you are on your own. No one will come to your aid. There is no calling 911.
            This was true. It was long before the era of cell phones (around 1980), and cell phones didn’t work from that spot the last time I was there (five years ago). Even if you could have called for help, it would take at least two or three hours for anyone to get there, if they could have found their way. Even if someone else, unknown to me, was camped in my area, the only likely spots for them to be were all a few miles away. Yelling for help would avail nothing. I really was on my own, dependent on my own resources.
            It wasn’t that I hadn’t expected this. I had sought it, after all. I just hadn’t had any idea what it would feel like to be completely on my own, cut off from all other humans. My mortality, something that at twenty-two I had been reasonably able to ignore, was thrown right in my face. I mean, I realized I could DIE out here. Of course, I could die anywhere. But in the safe-seeming realm of civilization, it was easy to forget this fact. It was impossible to forget it alone here in the wilderness at night (or so I found). Bull frogs would croak and I’d imagine intruders. I would think about how vulnerable I was with no weapon and plan to run into the dark and hide. I’d listen and stare into the night and feel anxious. I also felt pissed. This wasn’t what I had hoped to experience, for God’s sake. I’d hoped to feel mystical oneness with nature, not scared of the dark. I built the fire up and drank wine and at last I would fall asleep.
            Every morning I awoke with the sun and felt fine; the night’s fears seemed silly in the bright light of a mountain dawn. I ate granola and dried fruit for breakfast and bathed in the lake. Some days I hiked, some days I stayed at the lake and read and swam. But fear didn’t really leave me; it returned at dusk right on schedule. And after a week of this I hiked to my truck at the trailhead, drove an hour to town, and borrowed a pistol from my boyfriend. After that I slept with the pistol under my pillow and the nights were better.
            I hiked with the pistol on my hip and I kept the pistol next to me day and night. I felt a LOT less vulnerable (and I got some funny looks from hikers that I met on the trail). But the bottom line remained the same. Some days I would swim across the lake, and almost always, when I got to the middle, it would occur to me that I could drown out here—no one would save me. The pistol wasn’t going to help with that. I’d float on my back and remind myself that I could float like this endlessly and there was no need to drown. And then I’d swim the rest of the way across the lake to be greeted enthusiastically my dog, who seemed to worry that I would drown quite a bit more than I did.
            Since I am writing this, it is evident that I did not perish during my summer at Burgson Lake. In fact, I didn’t even have a truly negative experience. I never got close to drowning. I never saw a bear, though I saw fresh bear scat. I saw three rattlesnakes, but none were a problem. I was never threatened by a human, though I had a few odd encounters.
            Occasionally people would camp at my lake. Sometimes they would want to be social. One young guy was determined to have a drink with me, but he didn’t give me any grief (I had the gun on my hip the whole time). One Saturday, however, three guys who were obviously very drunk at noon came riding in on horses, singing and hollering. I heard them coming from my camp and watched them through binoculars. My tent was hidden in the trees and I knew they didn’t know I was there. There were three of them. And I made a quick choice. I packed a few essentials and slipped out the back way. They never even saw me. I hiked out to my truck and spent that weekend in town. When I returned on Monday, my camp was undisturbed. But I still think I made the right call.
            So, truly the only thing I actually had to fear was fear itself. That and the very real truth of my own mortality. But, of course, I could have faced/found that truth in many ways. This just happened to be the way I stumbled upon it. However, there is one thing worth mentioning. And it is this. It is different to be alone. Really alone.

(To be continued.)

For those who are wondering what in the world this post has to do with horses, it is a postscript to a fairly long (twelve post) saga I wrote about my life with horses. That saga begins here. And many of the insights and observations I made in my journals during my time at Burgson Lake found their way into my fifth book, Slickrock. This book is based mostly on the horse packing trips I did in my thirties, but much of the writing about solitude in the mountains comes from my early journals at Burgson Lake. Click on the title to find the Kindle edition of this book (which is just $2.99).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Taming the Wild by Alison Hart

No, not as in taming a horse. My horses are hot, contented and too lazy to go any faster than a trot when they hear the feed tub being opened. (See photo below of my fat horses trying to canter up a hill.  They pretend they're wild mustangs except their fly masks give them away as pampered pasture ornaments) The title "Taming the Wild" doesn't refer to  a new book I'm working on either. Instead it refers to something more lowly -- summer outdoor chores, which seem to get out-of-hand about now. Perhaps it's the heat that slows me down in July and makes the chores seem never-ending. I heard tell that Southern Belles wore no underwear under their hoop skirts so the breeze could keep them cool during the sultry days.  Or perhaps it's that I'm plumb worn out battling 'the wild.'

Pasture (not horses) that will soon be out-of-control
It's fun to compare summer weather and chores with other parts of the United States. I know the Midwest is still in drought mode. I am not sure what's going on in the West Coast. Here in Virginia we have had rain and humidity for weeks, so the vegetation is similar to the Amazon. Grass needs constant mowing. My husband and I share this job and we have an almost new John Deere, so the lawn is no problem. The pastures, however, quickly get out of hand. Horses poop in a few spots and eat down to the ground in others, so you have highs and lows. We use the neighbor's fields as well, and it's harder to get to them so weeds develop.  Poison ivy and brambles are always lurking and major invasive pests, the Tree of Heaven and Russian Olive, are continual threats.

The woods ready to take over as soon as we turn our backs
Summer days I am constantly reminded that we humans are simply guests on Earth. A week without mowing, weed eating and trimming hedges and the vegetation has crept to our back porch and taken over the gardens. A week without my and the dogs' vigilance and the critters have moved in. Squirrels steal the peaches, Japanese beetles decimate the roses, stink bugs kill the tomatoes and moles dig complex tunnels in the lawn. So far this year the neighbors have had to trap four separate raccoons that keep getting through the cat door and creating havoc in their laundry room.  The flies have been horrendous for the horses and no spray or mask seems to stop them. And though I love the deer, the ticks they attract have plagued all of us.

It's a balancing act here in Virginia--leaving enough 'wild' while carving out gardens, pasture, and lawn. And this time of the year, the chores that go with acreage can get downright ornery!  How are you at taming the wild in your own backyard?  Any great fly remedies? Please share!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Postscript--the Future (and My Life as a Hermit at Burgson Lake)

                       by Laura Crum

            This last series of posts that I’ve written about “My Life With Horses,” has focused on just that—my life with horses. I’ve deviated only enough to explain how and why my life with horses has changed over the years. But there is an aspect of my history that did not come into the story (as I told it) that has a big influence on how I see my future “life with horses.” So I thought I’d explain it now (for those readers, however few, that are interested in how my life with horses has evolved).
            When I was twenty-two years old and in my third year of college as an English major, I became fascinated by Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden. I read and re-read it and slowly I became determined to give his idea a try. (For those who haven’t read this classic, the book tells the story of how Thoreau spent a couple of years living alone in a cabin he built by Walden Pond, and the insights that came to him there.) I knew I wasn’t going to be able to build a cabin, or try Thoreau’s experiments in self-sufficiency, nor would I be able to live this way for years. But I came up with a concept that I thought was workable.
            Those who have read this series of posts about my life will have figured out by now that I was a pretty determined person in my youth, and when I had a goal, I didn’t let go of it easily. And my goal became spending a summer living alone in a tent at a remote Sierra lake. My version of Walden.
 Easier said than done, of course. But I persevered. My boyfriend at the time lived in the town of Sonora, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He knew a woman who was the daughter of one of the original forest rangers in that region. He told the woman of my goal. I needed a lake that was enough off the beaten path that I could be alone there, but it needed to be close enough that I could walk out and get supplies once in awhile. The lady said she knew of such a lake.
And one spring weekend the mountain lady hiked with me and my four month old Queensland Heeler pup, Joey, to Burgson Lake, near the Dardanelles, in the Clark Fork Wilderness. Getting to Burgson Lake involved five miles down a dirt road to the trail head, five miles hiking down a well marked trail and one mile off trail to the lake. Burgson Lake was sort of a well-kept secret. It was relatively easy to get to, and a little gem of a lake. It was marked on maps. But there was no trail that led to it and no signs, so very few people went there (at the time—this was thirty years ago).
I loved Burgson Lake at first sight. I can envision it perfectly all these years later, cradled in gray granite, rimmed with pine trees, poised on the rim of a great silvery canyon, with a view of the big volcanic cones called the Dardanelles. I found a campsite at the far end of the lake, protected by a little grove of pine trees, and made my plans.
One month later, I moved in. I had packed up enough food for three months (granola, nuts, dried fruit, beef jerky, trail mix…etc), to be augmented by weekly trips to town for fresh food. This load took one pack mule. I had enough books for three months of solitude, and following Thoreau’s guidance, I took the “greats”—no summer romances here. Plato, Aristotle, the Bhagavad-Gita, War and Peace…you get the point. This load of books took another pack mule. And I had an old African safari type canvas tent that I had borrowed from friends (thinking it was as close to a cabin as I was going to get), a folding cot, and all the usual camping gear. This took another mule.
And one early summer day, I rode a rented horse named Tex ahead of a packer and the three mules and guided the string into Burgson Lake (where the packer had never been before). And the packer unloaded my mules and helped me set up the big tent and left me there with my young dog. And so began what was perhaps the most interesting summer of my life. A time which is shaping my future to this day—or so I believe.
I still have the journals I wrote during the time I spent at the lake, and they begin with my impassioned desire to get away from the busyness and turmoil of every day life and have “the time and space to watch the sunset die out of the sky.” I envisioned many long hours sitting by the lake just watching whatever came to pass, reading, writing, thinking. Along with days of solitary hiking and swimming. And all these things happened, just as I planned. And yet it was nothing like what I had thought it would be.
To begin with I was very excited. I set up my camp, and I took a swim in the lake. Burgson Lake was a perfect swimming lake in the summer—cool, but not too cold. As evening drew in, I built a fire, had a glass of wine (or two) and some trail mix and beef jerky for dinner and watched the light die out of the sky, just as I’d hoped and planned. My young dog pressed himself close to me, not yet used to the big wild world where we now lived. And when it got dark, I crawled into my sleeping bag on the cot (quite comfortable) and went to sleep watching the orange-y shadows of the firelight flicker on the canvas walls of the tent. And I had a very odd dream. One that I remember to this day.
In the dream I was right where I was in reality, in my camp on the shore of Burgson Lake. I recognized the boulder strewn granite terrain instantly. Crossing the granite, in full view of me, was an animal that I immediately recognized as a snow leopard. And this was odd because I had never seen a snow leopard in my life, never even seen a photo of one. But somehow I knew it was a snow leopard, and in retrospect, since I have now seen many photos of this animal, I can say that it looked like a snow leopard. But how my brain created that image is beyond me. Anyway, this snow leopard paced along a granite ridge in the Sierras, where it certainly did not live in real life, looked back at me once and was gone. I have a vague notion that I tried to follow it. That was it.
Doesn’t seem very significant or memorable does it? But from the moment when I awoke the next morning to the present day, more than thirty years later, that dream remains vivid in my mind. I knew it meant something. I just didn’t know what.
It was only when many years had passed, maybe twenty years, that I read a book about totem animals and vision quests. And to my amazement, I recognized what had happened to me all those years ago. Because completely unknowingly, I had more or less fulfilled the criteria for a vision quest, moving heaven and earth in my determination to be alone at the lake. And as is said to happen, on the first night I spent alone there I dreamed of my totem animal. The fact that I had no idea what a vision quest was, or what a totem animal was, or even what a snow leopard was, makes this seem pretty magical to me. I couldn’t have projected these concepts—because I’d never heard of them. Judge for yourself.
Anyway, there I was, twenty-two years old, alone at Burgson Lake, having had a dream I knew had some spiritual significance, even if I didn’t know what it meant, and ready to begin my “Walden” experiment. And this is where I got my comeuppance.

Here I am with my dog, Joey, on the shore of Burgson Lake. Photo taken by a friend who hiked in to visit me.

(To be continued)

Also, tomorrow is the last day to get my first mystery novel for FREE as a Kindle edition. Cutter will be free through tomorrow, July 11th.  Hoofprints, the second in the series, is currently just 99 cents. Click on the titles to find the Kindle editions if you'd like some very affordable, fun, horse-themed summer reading.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer reads! With horses in them!

by Natalie Keller Reinert

This time last summer I was working in the mounted unit of the Parks Department. It was hot. It was scorching. It was an inferno.

And that was before I put my uniform on.

When I was a kid Tailored Sportsmans were the only thing a hunter rider could be seen in. My mother felt their polyester fibers and said "You will sweat to death in these. No way." She bought me cotton. And you know what? It took me twenty more years to get my Tailored Sportsmans (because believe it or not, the same company that makes Tailored Sportsmans also make riding breeches for police uniforms) and she was right. I did sweat to death in those.

So this summer I am spending riding-breeches-free, and I think if someone came up to me with a pair of polyester pants that velcro around my ankles I would laugh hysterically and possibly have some sort of fit. Because there is no way I'm going anywhere near a pair of Tailored Sportsmans, or any other kind of long pants, as long as the temperature is spiking above 90 here in New York.

Now, I know I'm from Florida, and I know I used to ride in the middle of the day even when it was ninety degrees with the humidity to match. But the other day I was walking down the street, and the heat was making me feel kind of light-headed, and I realized: I remember that feeling. From riding in the heat. 

It's possible that every silly risk I've ever taken on horseback, thinking it was fun or fine or not that likely to kill or maim me, was actually a direct result of being delirious with heat stroke!

So give that some consideration.

Anyway, no horses for me during this on-going heat wave. What I am doing is reading. So much reading. In fact, I have three books here that I think you ought to read. Yes, all of you!

1. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, by Anton diSclafani.
My motto is, you can never have enough of a good thing, especially when the good thing is a coming-of-age novel set in a riding camp for privileged young Southern ladies during the Great Depression. I know, it's probably your motto too; it's not very original.

Yonahlossee Riding Camp is a special book, slow-burning, seductive, taking readers on a journey of self-discovery and self-affirmation with Thea, who has been sent away from her beloved home (and pony) for some unknown sin. Written by a life-long horsewoman (diSclafani rides dressage) this book is just bursting with equestrian details. You can read my interview with diSclafani and a review of the book at Dappled Grey.

2. Keeping the Peace, by Hannah Hooton.
A witty contemporary romance in the spirit of Bridget Jones' Diary, this book kept me absolutely captivated from beginning to end. Girl inherits horse, girl becomes secretary in National Hunt stable even though she knows nothing about horses, girl does up a cute cottage, you know, the usual romance novel!

That's what makes Keeping the Peace so special: the characters and the setting feel utterly unique. There's a sassy friend with a pretty colorful sex life and the language is the sort that most racetrackers would feel completely comfortable with.... let's say... oh let's use colorful again. There are wonderful, riveting racing scenes that make you wonder how anyone could have the courage to get involved in steeplechasing! This is a really fun book.

3. Miss Spencer Rides Astride, by Sydney Alexander.
I discovered this little Regency romance while I was looking for something else altogether, and couldn't resist the cute cover, Irish hunting yard setting, and the ninety-nine cent price!

Miss Spencer is a fun, witty little book with a tomboy young lady, a peer in disguise, a gypsy plot, and some altogether wonderful riding scenes. It's very sweet, without going overboard on the sex (Fifty Shades of Hay it is not) and I was completely in love with the dialogue and the elegant prose. I'm reading her second book, The Genuine Lady, now, and would you believe, it features a cowboy so afraid of falling in love he refuses to name his horses.

So those are my three horsey summer reads. What are you reading this summer? What should I be reading? Let me know in the comments, and then I'll make an Amazon list of all your suggestions!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Twelve (and a Free Book)

                                                by Laura Crum

            Here is where I must play catch up and add in all that has been left out. Because I have told the story of the seven wonderful forever horses that came to me, but left out many other parts of my life with horses.
            My first forever horse, Burt, was turned out for many years in a friend’s pasture, fifteen minutes from my home. He was joined by a motley collection of horses, two that I took because they were sweet old rope horses that deserved to be retired (ET and Gray Dog), along with Wally’s great old heel horse, Pistol, who was retired due to arthritic changes, plus another horse of Wally’s that I had trained who crippled up due to EPM in the prime of life (Rebby), and the last colt I ever trained (Danny), who tore up his stifle joint in a freak collision with a pickup truck. Danny would have been euthanised by his current owner, but I took him back and rehabbed him and eventually he was sound enough to be a pasture pet. I had Gunner turned out there for awhile, too. So at one point we had six or seven of these pasture pets.
            But life moves on. Pistol grew too sore to be comfortable even on painkillers, so we had to euthanise him when he was 25. And eventually Burt died of a massive stroke at 35 years of age. ET and Rebby were both very hard keepers, and as they got into their thirties and late twenties respectively, it became impossible to keep them at a good weight in the pasture, even with tons of supplemental feed. And Wally and I were both getting overloaded trying to take adequate care of all the horses we were responsible for. A couple of years ago we made the difficult decision to euthanise Rebby and ET and bring Gunner home. The pasture owner kept Danny and Gray Dog for her pets, and they are still doing well there.
            Wally is eighty this year and, like me, has decided he no longer wants to ride young horses. He gave his young horse, Smoky, to a good home that had already taken a previous horse from him, Lester. And Smoky and Lester are happy, useful riding horses to this day with owners who love them. Wally’s gray gelding, Twister, has been living with me since he bought the horse as a six year old. (Twister has definitely "whited out" as he aged.) 

            Twister turns 17 this year and he is the last horse Wally has left, and will probably be the last horse Wally owns. I have made a commitment to keep and care for Twister until he dies. I owe it to the horse and to Wally. Twister and Wally accompanied my son and me with Henry and Sunny, on many, many expeditions. So Twister has a forever home with me.

My gold, silver and copper horses.

            Today I have five forever horses living with me on my small horse property (five horses is the maximum number I can have here). My own Gunner, Plumber and Sunny, my son’s Henry and Wally’s Twister. Flanigan and Toby the pony are buried here, and Burt is buried in the pasture where he lived for his last ten years and where he died.
            Gunner is 33 and still doing well. 

            Plumber is 24, retired, and sound, perky and happy.

            Henry is 25 and my son rides him a couple of days a week, mostly at the walk and trot. Henry is still perfectly sound and shows no sign of weakening. 

            Sunny is going strong. I think he may be nearly twenty years old. He has no papers and when I bought him he was said to be 10, but the vet said he had “funny” teeth, and could have been as old as 15. So who knows? But he is sound and strong and I ride him a couple of times a week on average. 

            Wally is recovering from knee surgery currently, so Twister, whose usual job is team roping horse, is getting a little downtime. Twister is sound and strong and doing well at 17 years, and Wally is already back to riding again and will be roping soon. Here's a recent photo (taken on 4th of July) of Twister and Wally along with my son and Henry on Wally's first ride post knee surgery (exactly one month after the operation).

            As I’ve known for awhile, if I keep taking good care of these forever horses (which I plan to do) there is a chance that in five years or so, I’ll have five older horses that are not ridable for anything more than puttering around—and no place to put a younger riding horse. And that’s OK. Its Ok because I love these horses and am deeply grateful for all the hours of happy riding time that every single one of them has given. I don’t in the least begrudge becoming their caregiver as they get older. Yes, I like to ride, but I have achieved all the goals I set myself in my life with horses and my mind and heart are both full to the brim with everything that horses, and these horses in particular, have brought to me. If there is more riding to come, that’s great. And if there is not I take complete joy in spending time with my horses and connecting through them with all the wonderful things we have done together. Time past is as present as time present when I am with my horses.

            I will add that it is important to me that every single one of these horses are good horses who have been great riding horses. None of them EVER purposefully dumped or harmed a human (to my knowledge). And yes, this matters to me. It is not my calling to babysit a herd of rescue horses who never had a partnership with humans, and would be happy to kick your block off or dump you on your head. It’s my pleasure and privilege to reward some fine horses who are richly deserving of a happy, peaceful retirement after their long, steady years of good service. And who are now, as they always were, a true pleasure to be around. I will feed them three times a day, and brush them and doctor them as needed, and ride them lightly if it seems right, and turn them out to graze and live happily with them in my garden. 

            As with my horses, so with my novels. I set out initially to write an even dozen, and that goal has been accomplished. People have asked me if I will write more, and the truthful answer is that I don’t know. The novels cover twenty years in the life of horse vet Gail McCarthy—she is 31 in the first story (Cutter) and 50 in the last installment (Barnstorming) and it took twenty years of my life to write the books. Gail goes through many of the life changes that I have gone through in the course of the series. My husband said, upon reading this series of posts, “You need more anecdotes.” Well, the anecdotes are all in the novels. The names have been changed to protect the innocent—and the guilty—but most of the things I describe in the stories, really happened in some form or other. I wove the events of my life into my books. (Oh, and just by chance, this series of posts about my life with horses is also twelve episodes in total--serendipity.)
And yes, its possible that I could write more about Gail, but its also possible that I won’t. And either way is fine with me. As I said about my horses, I’ve achieved the goals I set myself and I am happy and at peace with where I am now.
There are those who ask, what’s next? Well, I don’t know, and I am OK with not knowing. I may have many more adventures ahead of me, or I may live a peaceful, fairly solitary and hermitish life from now on. Right now my focus is on raising my young son. My life is good and I love every minute of it. I spend as much time as I can with my husband and child and our critters and garden. I try to enjoy the present moment fully. I don’t ask for more. And I am very grateful for all that I have. I will always love my horses, and if luck favors me, I will always live with them.
I know that there are some who will consider this a sort of “do nothing” life. There are those who think one must have goals and be working hard to achieve these goals for life to have meaning (both with horses and in general). There are those who think one must be busy to be happy. I am not in this group. I feel I have been plenty busy and productive in my life, and I have achieved pretty much every goal on my “bucket list.” It’s my intuition that moving on to a more contemplative stage at this point in my life is a good thing, not a bad thing. If you want to read more thoughts on this subject, I wove them into the last book in my series, Barnstorming. This book somewhat tells how I view my own future, as well as how I see Gail’s future.

Finally, I am deeply grateful for all my readers. And so, I’d like to offer a gift. For the next five days, Cutter, the first book in the series, and always one of the most popular titles, will be FREE as a Kindle edition. (Starting today, July 7th, and going through Thurs, July 11th.) Hoofprints, the second book, is currently on sale for 99 cents. So right now, for less than a dollar, you can read the first two books in the series. The remaining ten books are available for just $2.99 each as Kindle editions. The order is Cutter, Hoofprints, Roughstock, Roped, Slickrock, Breakaway, Hayburner, Forged, Moonblind, Chasing Cans, Going Gone, and Barnstorming. Click on the titles to find the Kindle editions. And for those who have read some of these books, I would be eternally grateful (really) if you would post reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. These reviews mean a great deal to authors nowadays. A huge thank you to those who have already done so. And I very much hope that you enjoy my stories. Cheers--Laura